WOKING, England – The 2014 McLaren P1 is not about launching a new, hyper-exotic carbon-fiber supercar. It's not a Pagani, nor is it a Spyker or a Mosler. It's certainly not a Vencer, a Mazzanti, a Saker or any of those odd cars of questionable provenance that make it to the floor of the Geneva motor show. And it's not a Lamborghini, although like Lamborghini, the P1's maker has 50 years of building cars under its belt -- in this case, mostly for Formula 1 and CanAm.
The P1 is the firm establishment of Bruce McLaren's legacy as a full-fledged but very low-volume automaker. It's like Ferrari after World War II, although it didn't start building sports cars to support its F1 effort from the get-go, as Ferrari did.
McLaren famously first took to the road with Gordon Murray's F1 road car of 1992-98 and followed that effort with the Mercedes-McLaren SLR of 2003-10. But when Mercedes decided to develop a supercar internally with to its AMG arm and the SLS gullwing, McLaren quickly followed up with the MP4-12C, relaunching itself as a standalone super road car brand. This time it has its own engines and an all-important halo car, the $1,150,000 P1, which begins production any day now. Only 375 of the 900-horsepower twin-turbo V-8/plug-in hybrid carbon-fiber mid-engine coupes will be built in McLaren's immaculately clean, hand-built factory.
"This is the beginning of a family of cars," McLaren sales and marketing director Greg Levine says. Already, about a hundred customers have placed orders through dealerships around the world (there will be 50 cars built by the end of this year).
Ron Dennis's McLaren Automotive delivered "more than 1400 cars in 2012," Levine says, "eleven percent of the segment." And McLaren is "achieving its first-quarter sales objectives." The goals are to make McLaren a global supercar brand by 2015 and a global luxury brand by 2020. It will introduce a new car in 2014, then another in 2015 and one more in 2016.
No, there's no racing or spyder version of the P1 planned; next up is the 13C, a sports car slotting below the quarter-million-dollar 12C. It will go for about the same price as a Porsche 911 Turbo, which means somewhere in the $150,000-to-$200,000 range. Yes, the new '15 and '16 models likely will be 13C variants. (The Spyder version of the 12C, which went on sale last year, is counted as a separate model from the hardtop 12C.)
Like the 12C and the P1, the 13C will feature a carbon-fiber monocoque, or monocell, as McLaren prefers to call it. The company, which pioneered the heavy use of the strong, lightweight material in Ayrton Senna's 1991 MP4/6, uses a combination of resin transfer molding and autoclave to fabricate the monocells, which is cost-effective enough for the cage in its upcoming "entry-level" car, although one executive said he doesn't understand how Alfa Romeo will use a carbon-fiber monocoque in its $55,000 (estimated) 4C.
With the P1 (named for "position one," or the lead position in an F1 race, as Sunday morning denizens of the NBC Sports broadcasts will know), McLaren's message is "win on Sunday, sell on Monday." McLaren has passed down to the P1 two technologies that have made Formula 1 much more interesting for viewers in recent years, DRS and KERS.
DRS stands for Drag Reduction System. On an F1 car like the McLaren MP4-28, the rear wing can open, kind of like horizontal venetian blinds, for a limited time and space on a Grand Prix circuit when the driver is within one second of the car in front of him. The P1 doesn't have such slats, but in normal conditions the rear wing nestles in the rear deck, behind the engine. It can be raised electronically by as much as 15 inches at the touch of the blue DRS button on the right side of the steering wheel. Drag is reduced 35 percent when the wing is stowed.
P1 chief designer Dan Parry-Williams drew a silhouette of the car with a baby elephant perched on top to demonstrate the car's downforce. Baby elephants weigh 600 pounds, McLaren says, and the elephant represents a record for downforce in any production car. In addition to the DRS wing, the front air intakes below the headlamps are designed to channel air over the front axle. Air coming over the front fenders is channeled into big openings on top of the scalloped doors, into the rear fenders and above the rear wheels. The center opening on the front lower fascia channels air out through two "nostrils" on the hood and along the windshield. The midengine's air intake is a single roof snorkle above the center console, and there are two McLaren swoosh-style scoops on top of the rear fenders.
KERS stands for Kinetic Energy Recovery System. Like DRS, KERS is available only for a limited portion of each lap in Formula 1. The McLaren P1's version is called IPAS, for Instant Power Assist System, and it can't be shut off. The 120-kilowatt electric motor combines with the 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 to provide 900 horsepower and a torque rating of 664 lb-ft. The plug-in hybrid can recharge fully in about two hours, McLaren says. Maximum turbo boost is 2.4 bar, and the company says the gasoline V-8 is about 90 percent new compared with the 12C's 3.8-liter turbo (which tops out at 2.2 bar), including a stiffened block. McLaren estimates less than three seconds for the P1's 0-to-62-mph time.
Dynamic modes include full-electric. The P1 will go "at least 10 kilometers" using only electric power, which equates to about 6.2 miles. McLaren claims the P1 will achieve Volkswagen GTI-level fuel efficiency, which the EPA rates at 24/27 mpg with the DSG transmission. The P1's transmission is a version of the 12C's seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual. There are two ride heights, including a race mode that lowers the car two inches, stiffens the suspension, and adds camber.
Besides the carbon-fiber monocoque and body panels, the F1 features some of the most exotic entries that can be found on the periodic table of elements, including titanium louvers on the lower edge of the backlight, a gold heat shield surrounding the high-mounted, single center exhaust pipe, and Inconel for the roof snorkel.
All these exotic materials combine for one more impressive number, "about 1400 kilograms," or a curb weight of about 3080 pounds. McLaren expects that fully 50 percent of the P1's production run will come to the U.S., and in fact all 375 will be left-hand-drive. Those 188 or so Americans who are willing to shell out $1.15 million are probably among the relatively few of us in this country who are impressed by such well-known McLaren drivers as Hulme, Hunt, Fittipaldi, Lauda, Prost, Senna, Raikkonen, Hakkinen, Hamilton, and Button.